Media mischaracterized comments by FBI Director James Comey to baselessly suggest that Hillary Clinton coined and used the term “security inquiry” to describe the FBI probe into her email use to downplay its severity. But the terms “inquiry” and “security referral” came from The New York Times’ original report on the probe, and it has reaffirmed that the “case began as a security referral.”
FBI Director Comey Calls Probe Into Clinton Emails An “Investigation”
FBI Director James Comey: “I’m Not Familiar With The Term ‘Security Inquiry.’” In a May 11 press conference, Comey was asked about the phrase “security inquiry” to describe the ongoing probe into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email use while at the Department of State. Comey responded that he was “not familiar with the term ‘security inquiry,’” and characterized the probe as an “investigation,” saying “it’s in [the FBI’s] name”:
Even though Hillary Clinton has repeatedly described the FBI probe over her use of a private email server as a “security inquiry,” FBI Director James Comey today questioned the use of that phrase.
“I don’t know what that means," Comey told reporters today in Washington, D.C. “We’re conducting an investigation. That’s the bureau’s business. That’s what we do.”
One reporter noted that former Secretary of State Clinton often refers to it as a “security inquiry.”
The word “investigation” -- "it’s in our name,” Comey responded. “And I’m not familiar with the term ‘security inquiry.’”
In the past several months, Comey has repeatedly referred to this probe as an “investigation,” including in a legal document filed in a freedom of information lawsuit related to her email case, related to Clinton's use of a private email server for official communication during her tenure as secretary of state. [ABC News, 5/11/16]
Media Characterize Term “Security Inquiry” As A “Clinton Claim”
Fox’s Catherine Herridge: “Today, Director Comey Seemed To Challenge Mrs. Clinton’s Go-To Explanation For The Bureau’s Investigation Of Her Email Practices.” Special Report host Bret Baier claimed that Comey was “undercutting one of Clinton’s favorite phrases about the probe” into her use of a private email server. Moreover, Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge claimed that the phrase is “Mrs. Clinton’s go-to explanation for the bureau’s investigation of her email practices,” also noting, “critics say” that the use of the term “security inquiry” is “an apparent effort to downplay the serious nature of the FBI criminal probe.” From the May 11 edition of Fox News’ Special Report:
BRET BAIER (HOST): Director James Comey is also undercutting one of Clinton’s favorite phrases about the probe. Here’s chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge.
HERRIDGE: Bret, the FBI director James Comey does regular on the record question and answer sessions with reporters known as “a pen and pad,” because there are no cameras or audio recordings. Today, Director Comey seemed to challenge Mrs. Clinton's go-to explanation for the bureau’s investigation of her email practices.
HERRIDGE: But, that's the very phrase Clinton uses repeatedly, and her critics say an apparent effort to downplay the serious nature of the FBI criminal probe. [Fox News, Special Report, 5/11/16]
FoxNews.com: “Comey Rebuffs Clinton Claim FBI Only Conducting ‘Security Inquiry’ On Emails.” FoxNews.com characterized the term “security inquiry” as a “Clinton claim” in an article titled “Comey rebuffs Clinton claim FBI only conducting ‘Security Inquiry’ on emails” writing that Comey stated that he was “not familiar with” that term. From the May 11 article on FoxNews.com:
Hillary Clinton for months has downplayed the FBI investigation into her private email server and practices as a mere “security inquiry.”
But when asked Wednesday by Fox News about Clinton's characterization of the bureau's probe, FBI Director James Comey said he doesn’t know what “security inquiry” means -- adding, “We’re conducting an investigation. … That’s what we do.”
The FBI director reiterated that he’s “not familiar with the term security inquiry” when told that is the phrase Clinton has used.
Clinton and her campaign team repeatedly have described the probe as a security inquiry. Most recently on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Clinton used the term when asked how she’d respond to people worried the FBI probe is a “big deal.” [FoxNews.com, 5/11/16]
Fox’s Steve Doocy: “If You Were One Of Her Campaign Strategists, You Would Say ‘Use That Word Security Inquiry, Don’t Say Criminal Investigation.’” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy suggested that “one of [Clinton’s] campaign strategists” told the Clinton to use the term “security inquiry” to intentionally avoid using the term “criminal investigation.” From the May 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): “Security inquiry,” and yet yesterday, when the FBI top guy was asked about it, he said this.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Sounded frustrated. He said this, “I don't know what that means. We're conducting an investigation. That's the bureau's business. I'm not familiar with the term security inquiry.”
ANDREW NAPOLITANO: That was in response to a terrific question put to him by our colleague Catherine Herridge. Who knows, as those of us who watch this know, the FBI doesn't do security inquiries. I think Mrs. Clinton means a review of how the State Department decides what's classified and what's not. Guess what, that's not the FBI's business. Last week, one of Mr. Comey's colleagues referred to the investigation of Mrs. Clinton as a law enforcement matter. The FBI enforces criminal law. This is a criminal investigation if ever there was one. Her talking points that her campaign people told her to give has now been directly and profoundly contradicted by the FBI director.
DOOCY: But Judge, if you were one of her campaign strategists, you would say, “use that word security inquiry, don't say 'criminal investigation.'”
NAPOLITANO: Guess what? The FBI doesn't bring in your five closest aides, one of whom decides to leave when the questioning gets a little too hot for a security inquiry. This is not an inquiry into the technical aspects of how her email worked, it's an inquiry into whether or not there was a conspiracy to commit espionage by taking state secrets from a secret secured government location and moving them to a non-secret personal location.
DOOCY: So, the fact that she has been using the term “security inquiry” for months and months and months, but we now know it wasn't really that, it's a criminal investigation, how many of the networks do you think covered that story last night?
NAPOLITANO: I think probably none. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/12/16]
Breitbart News: “FBI Director Says Clinton Email Probe Not ‘Security Inquiry’ Despite Clinton Claims To Contrary.” Breitbart News' Ian Hanchett reiterated Herridge’s report, stating in an article titled “FBI Director Says Clinton Email Probe Not ‘Security Inquiry’ Despite Clinton Claims To Contrary,” that “Herridge pointed out that this, Clinton referred to the FBI’s investigation as a ‘security inquiry.’” From Breitbart News' May 11 report:
Herridge stated that in response to a question on whether the FBI’s investigation is a “security inquiry,” “Director Comey said to us point blank: ‘I don’t even know what that means, a security inquiry. We do investigations here at the FBI.'”
Herridge pointed out that this, Clinton referred to the FBI’s investigation as a “security inquiry.” [Breitbart News, 5/11/16]
The Blaze: Clinton “Has Referred To The Probe As A ‘Security Inquiry,’ Presumably To Indicate That It’s Not As Severe As Her Opponents Have Made It Out To Be.” The Blaze’s Carly Hoilman claimed that Clinton used of the term “security inquiry” “presumably to indicate” that the investigation “is not as severe as her opponents have made it out to be.” Hoilman then characterized the term as “Clinton’s euphemistic characterization of the bureau’s operation.” From The Blaze’s May 11 report:
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has fought to keep the FBI investigation into her private email server from interfering with the 2016 campaign. The former secretary of state has referred to the probe as a “security inquiry,” presumably to indicate that it is not as severe as her opponents have made it out to be.
But when Fox News asked FBI Director James Comey Wednesday about Clinton’s euphemistic characterization of the bureau’s operation, he abruptly dismissed it.
“I don’t even know what that means — a ‘security inquiry.’ We do investigations here at the FBI,” Comey told Fox. [The Blaze, 5/11/16]
Townhall.com’s Katie Pavlich: “This ‘Security Inquiry’ Hillary Keeps Talking About Isn’t A Thing, This Is A Criminal Investigation.” Townhall.com’s Katie Pavlich insisted that the FBI probe is a “criminal investigation” and that Clinton “and her staff have maintained the FBI is simply conducting a security review or inquiry.” Reiterating Herridge’s report, Pavlich wrote, “Herridge further noted ‘security inquiry’ is an unknown term to the Director.” From Townhall.com’s May 11 report:
Since the FBI launched its criminal investigation into Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's alleged mishandling and exposure of classified information through a private server, the Democrat presidential candidate and her staff have maintained the FBI is simply conducting a security review or inquiry, not a criminal investigation.
After months of staying silent surrounding the investigation, FBI Director James Comey told Fox News Wednesday that he doesn't understand what “security inquiry” Clinton is referring to. The FBI does criminal investigations and the investigation surrounding Clinton's personal server, on which she kept and transmitted top-secret, classified and human source information, is no exception.
“I don't even know what that means, a 'security inquiry.' We do investigations here at the FBI,” Comey told Fox News' Catherine Herridge, reiterating Clinton will not be receiving any kind of special treatment.
Herridge further noted “security inquiry” is an unknown term to the Director. [Townhall.com, 5/11/16]
Politico: “Clinton And Her Team Have Made A Point Of Not Describing The FBI’s Work As An ‘Investigation.’” Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported that “Comey said he wasn't familiar with the term ‘security inquiry’ that Clinton and her aides have used,” and that “Clinton and her team have made a point of not describing the FBI’s work as an ‘investigation,’ but alternatively as a ‘security review’ or ‘security inquiry.’” From Politico’s May 11 article:
Clinton and her team have made a point of not describing the FBI's work as an “investigation,” but alternately as a “security review” or “security inquiry.” They've also noted that the issue was referred to the FBI not as a criminal matter but as an intelligence breach.
However, in response to a question Wednesday, Comey said he wasn't familiar with the term “security inquiry” that Clinton and her aides have used. The FBI chief said he considers the work agents are doing to be an “investigation.”
“It's in our name. I'm not familiar with the term 'security inquiry','” the director said.
However, he passed up the chance to repeat a reporter's characterization of it as a “criminal” probe. [Politico, 5/11/16]
The Hill: “FBI Head Challenges Clinton’s Description Of Email Probe.” The Hill’s Julian Hattem reported that while “Clinton and her allies have repeatedly called the probe a routine ‘security inquiry’ … Director James Comey told reporters that wasn’t an accurate description.” From The Hill’s May 11 report:
The head of the FBI on Wednesday appeared to challenge Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the federal investigation into her private email server.
Clinton and her allies have repeatedly called the probe a routine “security inquiry.”
But Director James Comey told reporters that wasn’t an accurate description.
“It's in our name. I'm not familiar with the term 'security inquiry,' ” Comey said at a roundtable with reporters, according to Politico.
“We’re conducting an investigation ... That’s what we do,” he said, according to Fox News.
Comey reportedly declined to say whether or not the investigation is “criminal” in nature. [The Hill, 5/11/16]
But Terms “Inquiry” And “Security Referral” Were Originally Used By The New York Times To Describe The Probe
NY Times: “It Was A ‘Security Referral,’ Pertaining To Possible Mishandling Of Classified Information, Officials Said, Not A ‘Criminal Referral.’” In an article titled “Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” The New York Times issued a correction stating, “It was a ‘security referral … officials said, not a ‘criminal referral.’” From The Times’ July 26 correction to the July 23 article:
An article in some editions on Friday about a request to the Justice Department for an investigation regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state referred incorrectly, using information from senior government officials, to the request. It was a “security referral,” pertaining to possible mishandling of classified information, officials said, not a “criminal referral.”[The New York Times, 7/23/15]
Joint Statement From Two Inspectors General Called Probe A Security Referral. In a joint statement released July 24, the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community (IG IC) and the Department of State clarified that “the IC IG did not make a criminal referral -- it was a security referral:”
IC IG made a referral detailing the potential compromise of classified information to security officials within the Executive Branch. The main purpose of the referral was to notify security officials that classified information may exist on at least one private server and thumb drive that are not in the government's possession. An important distinction is that the IC IG did not make a criminal referral- it was a security referral made for counterintelligence purposes. The IC IG is statutorily required to refer potential compromises of national security information to the appropriate IC security officials. [Statement from the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community and the Department of State Regarding the Review of Former Secretary Clinton's Emails, 7/24/15]
NY Times: “The F.B.I’s Case Began As A Security Referral From The Inspectors General Of The State Department And The Nation’s Intelligence Agencies. On May 12, The New York Times reiterated that the investigation into Clinton’s email server “began as a security referral” and that term originated with the “inspectors general of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies.” [The New York Times, 5/12/16]